Awareness of the ethical issues that impact supply chain workers have led today’s consumers to think twice before purchasing a product. Daniel Berki-Kiss further clarifies what ethical consumers are, explaining these individuals make responsible consumption decisions based on a company’s support of fair wages, worker’s rights and safety, and the protection of the environment. These decisions are generally hinged on whether or not a product is produced through fair trade. The implications of fair trade are twofold: better working conditions for workers and ethically produced goods for shoppers. Ethical consumers are equally motivated by social approval, as well as their own feelings of guilt or pride over supporting the environment.

In our previous post ‘Living a Life by Design’, we described how fulfilling it is to pivot our personal purpose for a larger cause or community. Making a difference in the world is the exact goal ethical consumers are trying to pursue— and it shows in today’s international trade landscape.

That being said, here are three ways ethical consumers are changing international trade:

1. Urging brand participation in trade unions

No organizational level is left unaffected by ethical consumerism. Today, even executives are sitting up and taking action for the growing phenomenon of consumer awareness and power. In a World Economic Forum article, it’s shown that over 50% of C-Suite executives are pursuing sustainable practices that prove advantageous for both people and biodiversity. Of course, efforts have been made to source sustainably produced raw materials. Beyond that, cosmetics, food, and natural pharmaceutical companies have enlisted at the Union for Ethical BioTrade. In 2020, the membership rate within the union rose by 45% from 2016. Trade unions can help provide workers with banking, health, and housing services while promoting gender and education equality.

2. Influencing international trade legislations

Ethical consumerism isn’t only influencing the shift in brands’ sustainable efforts, and it has also informed changes in international trade laws. Currently, fair trade laws have adopted legal wages and a stringent forced labor policy. Businesses across different countries have benefited from following legislations that seek to improve the standard of living for workers. Maryville University points out that international trade specialists are required to adjust their recommendations according to current market trends and trade regulations. These recommendations ensure a company’s global success. Currently, high-income countries like America or the UK display support for sustainable trade. And in the referenced World Economic Forum article, emerging countries are likewise adapting to the “eco-wakening” among consumers, with a substantial rise in Ecuador (120%) and India (24%). All these considered, international trade specialists advise businesses to abide by fair trade laws, especially with more and more consumers prioritizing ethical consumption.

3. Stimulating supply chain transparency

Many businesses have become vocal in sourcing raw materials or becoming carbon neutral. However, ethical consumers are displeased that most brands remain silent on social issues such as workers’ rights. In a Vogue Business feature on labor rights transparency, only 35% of brands publicly encouraged suppliers to allow trade unions. This number is underwhelming, considering 91% of these businesses explicitly made statements about protecting workers in their supply chain— like paying the minimum wage. Since then, consumers have taken an active role in demanding supply chain transparency through community-led solutions. Remake, an advocacy group, as well as Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Transparency Index, are only a few examples that promote and track supply chain transparency and labor policies.

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by Zadie Marie Ashton